The Framework for the Future: Prefatory Remarks
Brandeis University is at an important crossroads in its 72-year history. Founded by the American Jewish community on the principles of academic excellence and openness in hiring and admissions practices, Brandeis has achieved an inspiring degree of success — not just as a young university committed to educating undergraduates in the liberal arts but also as a major research institution. The Framework for the Future provides a scaffolding for the university’s coming decades. It is rooted in the institution’s history and builds upon its unique place in higher education.
The Framework is the synthesis of more than three years of broad consultations with focus groups, including prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, friends, and parents. It is also based on responses from multiple alumni surveys; information gleaned from 30 “self-reflection” documents written by faculty and administrators; and the work of four task forces, composed of 11 working groups, which forwarded for consideration more than 250 recommendations.
The synthesis of these sources does not include many of the recommendations that came out of the task force reports. Rather, it offers some overarching themes that require our attention most urgently as we seek to plan and advance Brandeis’ future. And while the Framework provides guideposts within which we will pursue many initiatives, its purpose is not to identify all the university’s plans, strengths, and achievements. Instead, it outlines a series of strategic initiatives and investments, especially in areas where we have over the years underinvested, which will allow us to build a stronger Brandeis over the next several years.
Brandeis University: Setting the Context
The establishment of Brandeis University, just seven decades ago, was an audacious undertaking and a remarkable achievement. The university’s raison d’être was different from that of well-established private institutions of higher education in the United States — it was created not to educate the next generation of clergy or the upper class, but rather those who had been denied acceptance to leading universities on account of antisemitism and bigotry. This reason for being was radical among American colleges and universities, and, over the following decades, most leading institutions of higher learning adopted many of the principles upon which Brandeis was founded.
Brandeis’ founding and success should serve as an inspiration and source of great pride for the American Jewish community; the university’s alumni and friends; its faculty and staff; and, especially, its students. Its rich history should be learned by all Brandeisians and serve as a compass as the university plans its future.
The naming of the university is itself inspiring. Louis Brandeis ranks as one of the most brilliant American jurists. The opposition in the U.S. Senate to his nomination to the highest court in 1916 stemmed in part from the same antisemitism that led to the founding of the institution that would bear his name. The opposition also stemmed from a fear of his judicial philosophy. Over a three-decade career, Brandeis included in his opinions some of the greatest defenses ever developed by a member of the Supreme Court regarding freedom of speech, the legal protection of individuals regardless of their wealth or influence, and the right to privacy. As Justice William O. Douglas noted, “Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible [… and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”
Albert Einstein underscored the great honor — and burden — of having a university named after someone of Brandeis’ stature and accomplishments when he said, “Brandeis is a name that cannot merely be adopted. It is one that must be achieved.” And achieve the new institution did, with remarkable speed and against all odds — a fact all too often overlooked and understudied. All those associated with the university should feel great pride about the story of Brandeis’ founding, and this history should guide the institution as it looks to its future.
Historical Context: "A Gift from the Jewish Community to American Higher Education"
In the early part of the 20th century, in response to discrimination and antisemitism at the leading institutions of higher education in the U.S., members of the American Jewish community tried for years to establish a university. A countervailing desire among many Jews to assimilate into American society left those pursuing the dream of a Jewish-founded university without a consensus that was necessary to accomplish their goal.
Only after the horrors of the Holocaust did a group of eight Jewish Boston families succeed in founding Brandeis as a secular university, open not only to Jews but to all academically qualified individuals. Brandeis represented something new and bold in American higher education — a nonsectarian research university with a focus on undergraduate education that was open to people of all backgrounds.
In 1952, Brandeis was described by Ebony magazine, a leading publication for the African American community, as an institution operating “on a set of democratic principles which could easily serve as goals for every other university in the United States.” Among these core principles were the absence of quotas in admissions and hiring, which at the time was quite radical in higher education; rigorous study through critical inquiry, including self-criticism; and a clear commitment to justice and service to humankind. Today, these are the universal values that anchor the work of many institutions of higher education. But, uniquely for Brandeis, these values trace back to millennia-old Jewish ideals of understanding the stranger; learning through intense and critical questioning and argumentation, as in Talmudic study; and helping to repair the world. These were powerful ideals on which to found a university.
To be sure, the road to success was not always smooth. Those involved in garnering support and raising funds prior to the university’s launch found themselves frequently — perhaps predictably — in disagreement. The New York delegation, which included Albert Einstein, broke with the Boston contingent over a number of foundational issues. Although Einstein and his followers argued that Brandeis must be secular and offer no rabbinical studies, the Nobel laureate ultimately withdrew his support for the project, at least in part, because he was opposed to the “assimilationist tendencies” of too many of the would-be founders. According to Einstein and others, the university should have no religious affiliation nor offer any religious training, but it needed to be unmistakably Jewish, a tension that would not be reconciled in 1948 and remains part of the institution’s culture today.
Founding President Abram Sachar understood this tension. He also grasped the emotional impact of the times: in particular, the revelations and ramifications of the Holocaust, and the concurrent establishment of the State of Israel. He pledged that Brandeis would remain “vitally concerned with Jewish studies [which had yet to establish itself as a field of study in the U.S.], that there would be a close relationship to the educational institutions of Israel, and that there would be proper respect for the Jewish tradition.” At the same time, he added, “there was no expectation that the university would become a parochial school on a university level. The model was to be not the Yeshiva [University], Catholic University of America, or Baylor, but rather Harvard or Princeton or Swarthmore.”
Brandeis did not disappoint its founding president or early supporters. Through bold and creative hiring of faculty leaders in their fields who had been shunned by other universities because they were immigrants, had radical politics (many were sympathetic to communism in the era of McCarthyism), or were Jewish, Brandeis rose quickly to join the ranks of major research universities despite its small size. From the beginning, Brandeis was a place that valued both cutting-edge research and scholarship and attention to an undergraduate liberal arts education. It was innovative by necessity due to the lack of a critical mass of faculty and the absence of significant financial resources. Yet Brandeis was invited to establish a Phi Beta Kappa chapter sooner in its history than any other university, and it became a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, a group of the 65 leading research universities in North America, in 1985 — again, sooner than any other university.
Shortly after Brandeis’ founding, the path-breaking scientists, musicians, artists, social scientists, and literary scholars hired by President Sachar transformed the university into an intellectual hotbed — one inspired by its distinctive founding ideals and influenced by the Jewish commitment to learning. The curriculum was unorthodox, too. The university required all students to take an art course — a first for American universities. It established a museum — the Rose — that, through the gifting and the farsighted purchase of art, became home to one of the preeminent collections of modern art at an American university museum. And, due to resource constraints and President Sachar’s conviction that Brandeis could not compete with other universities in many traditional disciplines, the expertise of its faculty emerged in new fields. Over time, Brandeis became a leader in a number of disciplines, including Judaic studies, biochemistry, neuroscience, and music composition.
The dynamic learning environment, combined with the institution’s commitment to openness, to academic rigor, to critical thinking, and to repairing the world, attracted and nurtured a student body that became intensely involved in social causes. As a Class of 1963 alumnus noted in a 2016 campus address, “For better and worse, the Sixties were invented here.” Brandeis students became actively involved in the civil and human rights movements, and in causes taking place both domestically and across the globe.
During the university’s first decade, the student body was largely Jewish, though students from all backgrounds were encouraged to apply and a small number of non-Jews enrolled. The Wien International Scholars Program, the first of its kind in the U.S., transformed campus demographics and the campus’s collective mindset by enrolling scholarship students from across the globe starting in 1958, 10 years after the school’s founding. Within four years, Wien Scholars represented more than 10 percent of the undergraduate population. They came from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and brought with them experiences that, according to one alumna from that period, “challenged to the core” the worldviews of her predominantly Jewish classmates. Many alumni recall how these students’ perspectives “changed forever the nature of classroom, dormitory, and dining hall conversations.”
Although the student body had become overwhelmingly progressive by the 1960s, the institution had not. As was the case at virtually all American colleges and universities, the experiences of underrepresented students on campus, especially students of color, had changed little despite major changes in American society at large. In 1969, black students led an 11-day occupation of Ford Hall to protest their experiences on campus, and the exclusion of the experiences and perspectives of people of color from the university curriculum and narrative.
The Ford Hall protest led to many changes: the establishment of the Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS), which introduced new perspectives and academic content into the curriculum, and was among the first of such departments in the United States; the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars Program and the Transitional Year Program (now known as the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program), which helped diversify the student body racially and socioeconomically; and the emergence of an awareness on the part of administrators and faculty of the challenges and complexities of recruiting, supporting, and retaining a more diverse academic community.
Yet change did not come quickly enough, nor did it come to the extent that students believed was consistent with the university’s rhetoric on openness and its sense of justice. In November 2015, students of color once again led an occupation, this time of the administration building, seeking a more inclusive learning environment; a curriculum, faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees that reflected the diversity of the U.S.; greater recognition of the social, cultural, and financial challenges that underrepresented students experience at the university; and a commitment to addressing these lingering issues. Although many of the agreed-upon actions expressed during the 2015 student protests have been put into motion, students continue to fight for a more supportive and inclusive educational experience at Brandeis.
Issues of diversity and inclusion continue to evolve at Brandeis, and are multifaceted. They are not solely about race and socioeconomics but are also about our growing international student body, our transgender and nonbinary communities, and our students with disabilities. These issues also extend to our increasingly diverse Jewish population. On the Brandeis campus, there is a greater diversity of thought and religious observance among the Jewish student population than ever before – and to a higher degree than at other universities. This diversity creates an exciting but sometimes contentious laboratory in which students can engage and discuss the difficult issues confronting and related to contemporary Jewry, and explore their own Jewish identities to a greater degree than they could on any other American college campus. The university’s founding has also created an environment in which non-Jews and the nonreligious can share religious and nonreligious beliefs and practices more freely with peers than they could at other colleges and universities. Students from many faith traditions have noted that the respect for religion they find among their peers is a unique attribute of Brandeis culture within the context of higher education in the U.S.
Brandeis students’ unwavering commitment to justice has its roots in the institution’s founding. President Sachar noted that, even in its early years, the university was grounded by a deep ethical core, motivated by “a highly sensitive social consciousness, the concern for the underdog, and the resistance to any kind of discrimination or privilege.” Some of this ethical core, he explained, draws on the “long prophetic tradition” of Jewish teachings, which have “woven the passion for social justice into the very warp and woof of life.” This ethical core, like much of what orients our work at Brandeis, is firmly rooted in the history and principles of our Jewish founding.
This brief account of Brandeis’ history and identity matters because it is all too easy to forget that Brandeis was founded as a daring experiment in higher education. It was an idealistic undertaking, and its commitments to religious and racial diversity, research excellence, and a liberal arts education were bold and groundbreaking aspirations. As we chart the future of our university, we have a duty to draw upon this rich history, commit to these founding ideals, and find the energy and boldness to once again be different, to set rather than follow trends. That is exactly what the Framework seeks to encourage: to understand and build upon Brandeis’ history as well as the unique space the university occupies in higher education.
The Brandeis Academic Value Proposition
The mix of cutting-edge research, scholarship, and creative work on the one hand and a deep commitment to undergraduate liberal arts education on the other fosters a unique learning environment for Brandeis students. It allows for a degree of “vertical connectivity” not found at other Research-1 universities or liberal arts colleges. This vertical connectivity gives Brandeis undergraduates direct and meaningful academic relationships with doctoral candidates, postdocs, staff, and the most esteemed faculty across the curriculum, creating a unique learning environment that allows students to pursue their studies alongside others at varying levels of knowledge and expertise. Ultimately, students can gain valuable experience by serving as mentors to less experienced students.
The university’s collaborative ethos also extends to faculty across the curriculum, creating an unusual degree of “horizontal connectivity.” These connections allow faculty, staff, and students to transcend programmatic, departmental, and school affiliations in their academic pursuits — a kind of collaboration that creates dynamic learning and research opportunities. Such connectivity has led to the introduction of innovative cross-school majors and programs, and provides an institutional nimbleness as the Brandeis curriculum evolves to meet the changing needs of students.
The remainder of this report outlines a set of goals and initiatives, grouped into two major objectives, based on the work of the 11 working groups that composed the four task forces. The two objectives are:
I. Fulfilling the Brandeis Academic Value Proposition
II. Reengaging Brandeis’ Founding Ethos
The goals outlined are aspirational and will take time to execute. As noted earlier, they do not include many of the specific 250 recommendations from the task force and working group reports, which will be reviewed, considered, and implemented through existing university committees and governance structures.
If Brandeis successfully capitalizes on its academic value proposition, 10 years from now it will be known as a place that is daring and agile, that pioneers new disciplines and perspectives, that has conceived of new ways of integrating knowledge from multiple disciplines, and that prepares its graduates for a rapidly changing and complex world. It will be a place where the best ideas emerging from the university’s labs meet the entrepreneurial spirit in its professional schools to address the world’s great challenges. It will be a place where insights from the humanities faculty help students better understand the ethical and moral issues associated with new opportunities that come from advances in technology. It will be a place where the work of the institution’s artists opens new avenues for understanding and interpreting human creativity and the world around us. It will be a place where the university’s professional schools inform policymakers on critical issues facing American society, and where students engage in informed ways with issues of global scope and importance.
Most of all, Brandeis will be known as a place that offers students a vibrant and dynamic approach to a wide range of human pursuits — a place where conventions are challenged. It will be a place that remains true to its motto, “Truth, Even Unto Its Innermost Parts.” It will be a place committed to upholding timeless artistic and literary ideals, a place imbued with a reverence for facts and rigorous analysis. Finally, it will be a place that upholds millennia-old Jewish traditions that helped define the university’s spirit and ethos: a commitment to academic rigor, to excellence in Judaic studies, and to service to the American Jewish community.
I. Fulfilling the Brandeis Academic Proposition
The following initiatives seek to bolster the two components of Brandeis’ academic value proposition — vertical and horizontal connectivity — which are critical to the institution’s future success.
Nurturing a Culture of Scholarly Inquiry and Academic Excellence
From its founding, Brandeis faculty have made significant achievements in scholarly and creative work, and have been pioneers in defining new intellectual frontiers. Through strategic investments in the university’s faculty and researchers, student-scholar activities, and physical infrastructure, Brandeis will broaden and deepen support for faculty research and scholarly productivity, which, in turn, will increase collaborative learning opportunities for students and deepen the university’s commitment to cutting-edge research.
Faculty and Researchers
Ensuring excellence in research and creative work within all academic divisions at Brandeis will require hiring promising young faculty who will be the university’s pioneering scholars, researchers, and artists in the future, and investing in protected research time.
Building Research Capacity. Expanding the faculty by 10 percent (35-40 new scholars) will allow the university to deepen its expertise in strategic areas; pursue excellence in new and emerging fields of study; and enrich the quality, depth, and breadth of the academic opportunities available to our students.
Investing in Research and Creative Work. As the second-smallest member of the 65-institution Association of American Universities, Brandeis is distinguished by the high productivity of its faculty. On average, Brandeis faculty are more productive researchers and are supported with fewer resources than faculty at most of our peer research institutions. The university will take advantage of internal funding to stimulate research and other creative endeavors, provide additional resources to establish a more regular and generous leave (sabbatical) program, recognize and count the mentoring of undergraduate research as part of faculty members’ teaching assignments, and increase the size of the teaching faculty so they can engage their students across the curriculum in ways that are consistent with the Brandeis academic value proposition — with smaller classes and greater opportunities for collaborative work.
The Brandeis Academic Ecosystem
At Brandeis, research and creative work rely upon input from colleagues in multiple departments and programs; support from staff; and, often, the efforts of graduate student trainees. These activities benefit undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral scholars. Through the following investments, Brandeis will maximize these interactions and build upon the vertical and horizontal connectivity that defines the institution’s academic value proposition.
Undergraduate Research. All undergraduates at Brandeis wishing to pursue intensive, faculty-mentored research or creative work should be able to do so. To expand opportunities for students who otherwise would work off-campus during the summer months, the university will introduce new and increase existing summer research grants so students can meet their financial needs while doing research or creative projects with faculty. By providing incentives, Brandeis will also increase the number of faculty, graduate students, and staff who work with and mentor undergraduate students during the summer months.
Supporting Sponsored Research. To give students more opportunities to pursue intensive, faculty-mentored research or creative work, more faculty need to serve as mentors. To secure greater faculty participation, Brandeis will provide better pre- and post-award support, assist faculty as they seek to obtain external funding for their work, and offer a more generous sabbatical leave program. Through this support, the university will create a larger cohort of research-active faculty, which will lead to increased opportunities for students.
Investing in Data Science. For some time, acquiring and analyzing large data sets has been central to research in the sciences, the social sciences, business, and social policy analysis. More recently, this work has become important to the humanities through the emergence of “digital humanities.” In planning for the future, Brandeis will invest in centralized resources to support data-driven scholarship, with an emphasis on increasing connectivity among and across subject areas and disciplines.
Innovation. Brandeis has the opportunity to build upon its excellence in the liberal arts and sciences by increasing its commitment to innovative partnerships and programs with other academic institutions and the private sector. The university is geographically well-situated to do this within its Route 128 neighborhood, and has a significant number of alumni and friends willing to serve as partners. Brandeis will also pursue collaborations in Greater Boston and abroad. The university has programmatic ties with universities in Israel and China, and plans to strengthen ties in India and elsewhere. As part of the university’s drive for innovation, it will expand such programs as SPROUT and SPARK — designed to support entrepreneurial activity among students, faculty, and staff — with the goal of expanding opportunities, generating revenue, and raising the institution’s national profile. Brandeis is committed to looking outward to increase educational opportunities for students and faculty.
The Library. The library serves as the central hub for traditional research services, books, and other publications that enable the Brandeis academic ecosystem to thrive. It has also grown into a central social space on campus, a vital resource for innovation and collaborative academic pursuits, and a home for many support services that bolster teaching and learning on campus. Yet scholarship today is no longer restricted to the publication of articles and monographs; it also includes a wide range of digital sources and creative work pursued by members of the Brandeis community. New modes of knowledge creation and emerging technologies are sparking innovation and changing the landscape of scholarly communication. As the university plans for the future, we seek to ensure that the library has the necessary resources to build upon its ongoing success in engaging with the community, and to foster the development and dissemination of new forms of scholarship and approaches to teaching.
Making the Whole Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: NEJS and Diaspora Studies. As the university increases support for its research endeavor, it will define new structures in two subject areas to encourage greater integration and collaboration among departments, programs, and research centers and institutes. One area is Near Eastern and Judaic studies (NEJS), a historic curricular strength of Brandeis. The second, in the emerging field of diaspora studies, would bring together scholars and academic programs focused on the study of dispersed peoples, many of whom have been forced to resettle outside their traditional homelands.
Cultivating Excellence in the Study and Teaching of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. From its founding, buttressed by the commitment of President Sachar, Brandeis has been a leader in Near Eastern and Judaic studies. Faculty study and teach undergraduate and graduate courses that examine critical questions of history, literature, religion, and culture related to Jewish studies, the Bible and the Ancient Near East, and Arabic and Islamic civilization. The roster of faculty who do research and teach in areas related to Judaic studies is among the largest and most accomplished in the U.S. Hebrew and Arabic, as well as Yiddish, are central to our students’ academic pursuits. In addition, Brandeis has eight centers and institutes that bring together faculty, doctoral students, and postdoctoral and visiting scholars who conduct research and offer courses on issues related to Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish education, women and Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East.
The university will explore ways to integrate academic, scholarly, and teaching pursuits within NEJS, the research centers and institutes, and other academic departments and programs within the School of Arts and Sciences to multiply the contributions each program makes to Brandeis students’ academic pursuits.
The university will also explore ways to make the scholarly work of NEJS and the institution’s research centers and institutes more accessible to the public. As the singular secular institution founded by the American Jewish community, Brandeis should be the place American Jewry turn to engage the most pressing issues facing Jews and Judaism: for example, the rise in antisemitism, the future of Jewish peoplehood, and the evolving relationship between Israel and diaspora Jews. This will require bringing the extensive talent and resources now dispersed across academic departments and the research centers and institutes into closer coordination.
And the university will continue its commitment to training future generations of Jewish professional leaders. Since 1969, Brandeis has been the preeminent place for training and educating professional leaders for the Jewish community through the graduate Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program and academic programs related to Judaic studies. Graduates of these programs fill a large proportion of leadership roles in Jewish communal organizations across the U.S. To remain true to President Sachar’s commitments to honoring the Jewish tradition, we will invest in these programs and develop the next generation of creative, critical-thinking lay leaders in Jewish life.
Establishing a Home for Interdisciplinary Diaspora Studies. Over the past 70 years, Brandeis scholars have been involved in research and creative work that sheds light on the experiences of diasporic communities, both in the U.S. and around the world. During the university’s early days, such research was understandably centered on the Jewish diaspora.
In 1969, teaching and scholarship expanded to the African diaspora with Brandeis’ establishment of the Department of African and African American Studies, among the first departments of its kind in the U.S. Department status, as opposed to program status, gave AAAS the ability to recruit and hire faculty directly, and develop curriculum independently. The department, which from its creation has played a leading role in the development of its field, includes courses in anthropology, the creative arts, economics, history, literature, music, and politics, with participating faculty drawn from more than 10 academic departments.
To build upon and advance the university’s early entry into studying peoples in diaspora, and its strength in African and African American studies, Brandeis will establish a home for interdisciplinary diaspora studies. It will house the university’s ongoing scholarly activities as well as an expanded focus on Latinx studies; Asian and Asian-American — Pacific Islander studies; and peoples involved in multiple diasporas in China, India, and Southern and Eastern Europe. This new home will provide scholars and students with opportunities to collaborate across disciplines, subject areas, and historic periods to broaden and deepen both research and course offerings. Through the creation of a home for such collaboration, Brandeis will become a leader in developing new ways of understanding the experiences of the many diasporic communities in the U.S. and around the world.
Creating an Integrated, Inclusive, and Vibrant Student Experience
Enriching the Brandeis Undergraduate and Graduate Experience
Over the past seven decades, undergraduate and graduate alumni have consistently described their academic experience at Brandeis as excellent. Yet many alumni do not recollect their student-life experience as positively. The following strategic investments will address this imbalance and create a more inclusive learning environment.
Defining the Brandeis Experience. Over the coming years, the Orientation program for incoming first-year undergraduate and graduate students will include a segment on the university’s inspiring history that will also showcase our symbols and traditions. Although the university’s founding gave it a unique set of symbols and traditions — such as the university seal, the university motto, the Brandeis calendar (based on major Jewish holidays), and the figure of Louis Brandeis himself — many have not taken hold as ideas that unite the campus. Other notable symbols or traditions to share include student activism and the successes of our alumni across so many professions. These successes include the remarkable number of women who have excelled in the sciences — unusual in the academy — and won prestigious national and international awards in numerous fields, along with women of color who have become significant scholars and teachers in higher education and the national political arena. Highlighting these accomplishments alongside existing and new symbols that reflect the university’s character and aspirations will help define what it means to be a Brandeis student and graduate.
Investing in the Success of Brandeis Graduate Students. Graduate students are an essential part of the university and its academic value proposition. To make good on the value proposition, Brandeis plans to offer interested graduate students more opportunities to play a significant role in undergraduate life as mentors, advisers, and role models. To achieve this expanded role for graduate students, the university will provide them with the necessary resources, including personal and professional development programs; competitive stipends; and greater access to housing, and affordable transportation and meals. To prepare graduate students for career options beyond the academy, Brandeis will also expand skills workshops and career mentoring.
Integrating Experiences Inside and Outside the Classroom. A high degree of vertical and horizontal connectivity defines and distinguishes the academic program at Brandeis. Yet for undergraduate students, the university can do more to create richer and more rewarding experiences outside the classroom. For graduate students, Brandeis can continue to build rich pre-professional experiences through clubs, internships, and community partnerships, which enhance students’ academic experiences and prepare them for careers both inside the academy and beyond.
Part of this effort is reconsidering where to locate student support services. Moving some currently centralized services — for example, advising, counseling, and career services — to the residence halls would make it more likely that students would take advantage of these offerings. Such a move would also allow support staff to be in more regular contact with students, giving them a better sense of our students’ needs and alerting them if students need greater support.
Expanding Social Opportunities on Campus. To improve the undergraduate and graduate experience, Brandeis will provide students, faculty, and staff with a richer, more engaging environment in which to live, work, and learn with one another. The university will create a wider range of shared experiences and activities within the residence halls; increase the number of flexible, inviting, and inclusive social spaces on campus; and develop more student life programming, both on and off campus. Faculty, staff, and graduate students will be invited to play a stronger role with undergraduates through programming in the residence halls.
Improving Support Structures
A vibrant and inclusive campus community does not emerge organically; it is essential that the university support all Brandeisians who live and work on campus. Brandeis plans to make the following strategic investments in personnel and structures to foster a stronger, more cohesive community.
Student Support. The university seeks to offer undergraduate students an excellent liberal arts education that extends beyond the classroom, and provides them with the tools and support to succeed at Brandeis and live principled, productive lives.
Mental Health. Like many institutions of higher education across the U.S., Brandeis faces rapidly expanding needs for student mental health support. Too many students report experiencing significant feelings of loneliness and isolation. The university plans to expand mental health services, starting with an internal review of current practices and an assessment of capacity during the 2019-20 academic year. More broadly, Brandeis is committed to developing a community health-based approach to addressing mental health issues, one that seeks to foster a greater sense of belonging across the Brandeis campus and includes a strong focus on preventative measures.
Advising. The university is committed to developing an integrated approach to supporting the academic, co-curricular, and personal needs of its students. Brandeis will restructure and reimagine advising and support roles and programs across the university, including its models for peer mentoring and first-year academic advising. The Division of Student Affairs will consider new and emerging models of student services that are consistent with best practices for student-facing offices. And the university will seek to create an advising environment built upon deep, multiyear relationships between students and advisers, in which academic departments and the residential life system become important sources of support for students through shared intellectual pursuits and co-curricular advising.
Athletics and Physical Health. To create a wider range of opportunities for students outside the classroom, the university will develop a more robust health and wellness strategy for the university community. This includes making investments in athletics — including in varsity, club, intramural, and recreation programs, and in athletics facilities.
Career Services. Brandeis is committed to playing a major role in providing its students, both during their time on campus and after graduation, with support that helps them successfully enter the job market. The ways in which the university provides career development to undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, and members of the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Rabb School are a valuable opportunity for fostering long-term intergenerational connections on campus and beyond. Brandeis plans to invest in the Hiatt Career Center and other avenues to support more comprehensive career advising, the securing of internships, and the connection of students with employers following graduation. As a first step, the Division of Student Affairs will conduct a comprehensive self-study and external review of university-wide career services during the 2019-20 academic year. The findings and recommendations that emerge will help the university improve its delivery of what has become a critical student service.
Spiritual Life. Brandeis’ embrace, at its founding, of a forward-looking philosophy of religious pluralism made it exceptional. The university remains committed to ensuring that a dynamic, diverse spiritual and religious life continues to serve the campus community. Over the past seven decades, spiritual and religious life on campus has become more diverse, both among Jewish students and across faiths. The institution plans to build upon and support the impressive diversity of the university’s religious communities. And while it is essential that the university embrace and raise up all faith traditions in these efforts, Brandeis, as the only secular American university founded by Jews, remains fully committed to supporting the Jewish community, in all its diversity, and Jewish traditions – a commitment first made by President Sachar.
Alumni Engagement. The ideas, experiences, involvement, and support of our community of more than 60,000 undergraduate and graduate alumni are an important part of our institution’s lifeblood. The university is committed to the idea that all Brandeisians — from students and alumni to faculty and friends — should have a voice at their university. Brandeis will seek to create a robust set of ongoing opportunities for alumni, students, and faculty to engage with one another and with the university more broadly, so that the rich vertical connectivity on the campus extends intergenerationally across the broader Brandeis community. Facilitated by a revitalized, volunteer-driven, and university-supported alumni association, these opportunities will include expanded career support services for students and young alumni; internships, mentoring, and corporate connections with older alumni; programs in which alumni serve as guest lecturers in Brandeis classes; and expanded opportunities for alumni to serve as advocates and ambassadors for Brandeis.
Investing in the Campus Infrastructure
The university will invest in its physical plant to support scholarly and creative work across the institution, and also to support student life and the development of smaller residential communities. The following initiatives summarize the most pressing needs, and target areas of renovation and renewal.
The Academic Program
The Sciences. In 2009, Brandeis completed the first phase of the Science Complex Renewal Plan with the construction of the Shapiro Science Center. The center’s opening added vibrancy and connectivity to the life of the Division of Science. During the second phase, the university plans to replace inadequate chemistry research space with facilities that will enable teaching and research in applied science and emerging areas of collaboration, such as chemical biology, biological data science, and the study of active matter.
Social Sciences. The offices, departments, and labs used by social science faculty and researchers in Arts and Sciences, Brandeis International Business School, and Heller are housed in seven separate buildings across our campus. As a result, there is not a single location where the work of social science — the collaboration, research, and teaching — can occur. Rather than creating a single home for the social sciences, the university seeks to create a centralized hub for social science research. This hub will lead to vertical and horizontal connectivity across the many departments and schools involved in social science research at Brandeis. It will also create more opportunities for innovation at the intersections of social science with the creative arts, computer science, and business. As Brandeis seeks to increase its capacity in such areas as the digital humanities, this centralized hub will be vital to the success of both the social sciences and the humanities.
Creative Arts. The university will undertake a broad initiative to reinvest in the creative arts, including an investment in new facilities that make partnerships with other academic programs possible. Creative practices have changed since the mid-20th century, when the institution’s current facilities were conceived. Increasingly interdisciplinary, today’s creative processes benefit from intentional interaction and collaboration across traditional disciplinary and artistic boundaries. Brandeis will provide professional studios and renovate existing performance spaces on campus to allow for greater faculty-student engagement, expand opportunities for performances, and promote emerging artistic collaborations within and across the divisions.
Brandeis International Business School. Since its founding in 1994, the Brandeis International Business School has held strong to its ethos of preparing students for a rapidly changing world. For 26 years, the school has stood at the forefront of a broad, multidisciplinary approach to business and, as a result, has been a key innovator in business education. To build upon these successes, the school will need flexible spaces that serve multiple forms of teaching. The new spaces must also accommodate the emerging importance of data analytics in business, and its connections to the sciences and the social sciences.
A Quad for the Humanities. In 2010, Brandeis opened its 47,000-square-foot Mandel Center for the Humanities to promote collaboration across departments and programs. In its short history, the Mandel Center has invigorated the humanities at Brandeis and strengthened connections to other academic divisions. To build upon the successes of the Mandel Center, the university seeks to further link the five buildings that form the quad around it. Connectors between buildings will provide much-needed meeting, teaching, and conference-room space, as well as new faculty offices and other shared spaces that serve the humanities, the humanistic social sciences, and the greater campus community. Most important, it will bring together colleagues whose work will enrich the work of their peers and create new opportunities for students.
Student and Residential Life
Residence Halls. Many of Brandeis’ residence halls were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Though they served the student body well for several decades, these residence halls are now dated. Some are inaccessible to people with disabilities. Some have had their social and interactive spaces converted into student beds as enrollments grew, turning the buildings into transactional spaces where students do little more than sleep. The university is committed to rethinking all its residence halls so that they are accessible; promote greater engagement among students; and encourage students, faculty, and staff to share in informal conversations and planned events. In addition, offices that provide student services will coordinate to determine which services can be decentralized and offered to students within the residence halls.
Dining. As Brandeis pursues the goal of creating a stronger sense of community on campus and serving a more diverse student population, the university will ensure that its dining services provide healthy options that offer a wide variety of choices, including those that take food allergies and special diets into account. Dining services will also offer graduate students, who lack on-campus residences, affordable meals. Finally, the university will invest in its dining spaces to ensure they are welcoming, conducive to conversation, and designed with the flexibility that allows them to be used for large social events or as late-night gathering spaces.
II. Reengaging Brandeis' Founding Ethos
The university’s founding and early success was audacious. Its rise was fueled by the enormous energy and generosity of Jewish donors, students, and scholars, many of whom were world-class scientists who fled Europe’s Nazi scourge. At its core, the institution embodied millennia-old Jewish principles and a culture steeped in a deep reverence for learning; the close and critical reading of the written word; critical analysis, including self-criticism; and the pursuit of justice.
The following initiatives highlight Brandeis’ founding ethos and underscore how the university will strive to preserve these important values.
A Reverence for Learning
Reverence for learning, so apparent among Brandeis students and faculty, is the driving force behind the Framework for the Future. The university’s commitment to a liberal arts education on the one hand and major research achievements on the other creates a unique academic environment — one defined by student-faculty connections at multiple levels, dynamic connections among faculty and researchers across disciplines, and a genuine culture of collaboration.
By pursuing the many initiatives outlined in the previous sections and nourishing the academic culture so deeply embedded since the university’s founding, Brandeis will spark innovation across campus, and encourage students and faculty to use insights from the creation of newly acquired knowledge to contribute to the betterment of humankind.
Service to the American Jewish Community
President Sachar used to say that Brandeis was a gift from the American Jewish community to higher education. He recognized that it was largely the generosity of the American Jewish community that launched and supported Brandeis through its formative years, and helped it establish itself as a leading university. He believed that Brandeis, though a secular institution, would always be vitally concerned with Jewish studies, that there would be a close relationship with Israel’s educational institutions, and that there would be proper respect for the Jewish tradition. In short, he believed being of service to the American Jewish community was part of Brandeis’ mission.
Since its founding, Brandeis has indeed carried out President Sachar’s pledge. The university was the leader in establishing the field of Judaic studies in the United States. It has educated scores of lay Jewish leaders around the world; produced prodigious scholarship on Jewish history, culture, and religion; and carried out scholarly research on Jewish communities, Jewish identity, and engagement. Through the reorganization of faculty and students involved in programs, centers, and institutes related to Judaic studies, Jews, Israel, and the Middle East, Brandeis will provide even deeper and more public-facing service to the American Jewish community. The university will be the place to which American Jews turn to gain knowledge and pose questions related to issues of greatest concern.
A Commitment to Justice
From its founding, Brandeis has been animated by a deep commitment to justice and to the idea that no academically qualified individual should be denied access to higher education on account of who they are. Brandeis has always believed that a learning environment is made richer when there is a diversity of identities, experiences, and viewpoints among those living and learning together, and that the university must work to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff experience an inclusive and supportive campus community.
Brandeis seeks to deepen its commitment to the university’s founding values and create a learning environment defined by the free exchange of ideas within an environment of mutual respect. In recent years, the university has created a more diverse Board of Trustees and remains committed to pursuing diversity at the highest level of institutional governance. The Brandeis faculty has made a concerted effort to expand the content and improve the pedagogy of their classes, particularly as the composition and educational experiences of the student body have become increasingly diverse. And as the university considers the physical development of its campus, it is committed to pursuing universal design principles to accommodate those with physical disabilities, and ensure their full participation in classes and campus events.
Expanding Financial Aid Support
A socioeconomically diverse student community requires significant financial support. A major goal of Brandeis’ future philanthropic efforts will be to increase the financial resources available to students, so they may experience all the university has to offer. Although Brandeis now meets the full demonstrated financial need of the students it admits, the definition of “demonstrated need” does not at present consider all the costs of being a student — for example, the cost of living during university breaks; the cost of traveling home during breaks; or the cost of numerous opportunities and events, both social and academic. Brandeis will rethink how it assesses need so that students do not have to work multiple jobs to meet their financial obligations or lose the opportunity to do summer research with faculty because they need to work as part of their financial aid packages.
Creating Opportunities for Students to Engage Across Difference
As Brandeis seeks to foster a campus community made stronger by diversity in all forms, it must create more-structured opportunities for students to engage across difference — including differences in socioeconomic background, interests, identity, politics, and beliefs. The impulse to found the university seven decades ago to fight bigotry and antisemitism must be joined by the imperative to learn from the campus atmosphere made possible by that impulse. A first step toward meeting this goal — the Critical Conversations component of Brandeis’ new General Education requirements — was introduced this academic year. Through this program, faculty model for students ways of discussing and debating contentious issues.
As the university develops stronger residential communities within the larger campus, it will create more-sustained opportunities for students to connect with one another, and engage in conversation and debate with those who hold different views. Learning across difference, and developing the skills to do so, will be essential for our students’ success both on campus and following graduation.
The Use of One’s Gifts to Help Repair the World
At Brandeis, we are guided by the idea from the liberal arts tradition that knowledge should be pursued for its own sake, not because of ideology or for political purposes. At the same time, Brandeis has woven the spirit of using one’s intellectual and material gifts to help repair the world into its institutional ethos. Students and faculty pursue this ethos not by abandoning the liberal arts tradition and embracing knowledge that serves a particular purpose or end, but rather by using the insights derived from scholarly and creative work for the betterment of society.
Establishing a Center for Civic Engagement
Since its founding, Brandeis has advanced the idea that the pursuit of innovative research and the application of what is learned can lead to positive changes in society. By establishing a new Center for Civic Engagement, Brandeis will create a centralized home for the institution’s commitment to justice and deepen its role as a key convener of important national conversations about social issues and public affairs.
There is a thriving culture of community service at Brandeis, especially among its undergraduate students. Collectively, they completed more than 60,000 volunteer hours during the 2018-19 academic year. Yet, unlike many of its peers, Brandeis does not have a central place where all community-outreach activities are coordinated, where best practices are shared, and where student-scholars are given tools and resources to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships with communities.
As Brandeis articulates with greater clarity and confidence its academic value proposition and builds upon its institutional ethos, it plans to make investments in its infrastructure that will enable its students to “help repair the world” in a more integrated way. By establishing a Center for Civic Engagement, the university will deepen the engagement of students, faculty, and staff on campus, in Waltham, in Greater Boston, and beyond, providing students, in particular, with a supplemental source of learning. It will also create a nexus where in-class and out-of-class experiences can energize one another — connecting activities that are currently often “siloed” on the Brandeis campus.
Brandeis was a risky undertaking seven decades ago. Conceived as a bold experiment in higher education, the university was founded as a refuge from bigotry and antisemitism, and as an institution committed to excellence in research and teaching above all else.
It is clear that, in many ways, this experiment has been a great success. The only secular American university with roots in the Jewish community, Brandeis has quickly emerged as a first-rate research institution that has played a key role in advancing new and emerging academic fields. It has shaped the lives of more than 60,000 students. And as one of the first universities founded without quotas in admissions and staffing, it has served as an early and enduring model of inclusivity for colleges and universities across the country.
Now, at this inflection point in Brandeis’ history, we must forge a clear path for the university — one that replicates the energy, creativity, and pioneering spirit of our founding, and creates the conditions in which students, faculty, and staff can replicate the trailblazing successes of their predecessors.
For more than 70 years, our institution has been guided and inspired by the words of our namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.” The Framework for the Future is a bold plan for Brandeis University — one that challenges us to build upon our history, strengths, and institutional ethos for the coming decades.